Reports of widespread corruption and fraud, coupled with authorities' inability and seeming unwillingness to deal with it, are "sending the image of the country and government to the dogs".
This is the damning assessment of Popo Molefe, ousted chairperson of the dissolved board of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), after his and his colleagues' services were terminated by Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters on Wednesday.
And, he warns, it is the governing African National Congress (ANC) which is paying the price for its leadership "taking its eyes off the ball" and interference in law-enforcement preventing corruption being rooted out.
Molefe and the Prasa board were given their marching orders with Peters citing issues around corporate governance and the public spat between them and Collins Letsoalo, a close associate of Peters, who was seconded from the Transport Department to Prasa as acting group chief executive officer. Letsoalo awarded himself a pay hike of 350 percent — and Molefe believes he was parachuted in "to prevent investigations into corruption".
In an interview with Huffington Post South Africa Molefe says:
- He learnt of his dismissal on Wednesday after a meeting at Luthuli House;
- Peters' reasons for dissolving the Prasa board are "spurious";
- He is "seriously worried" about the future of investigations into corruption at Prasa;
- These investigations were purposefully delayed by law-enforcement agencies;
- Current events are undermining democracy; and
- The ANC's losses prove "conclusively" it is losing support — and Prasa and the social grant fiasco aren't helping.
"I am worried that the investigations could be seriously prejudiced (now that the board has been removed) ... we were about to file court papers . . . I am seriously worried about it," he said at the law firm Werksmans Attorneys in Sandton, Johannesburg.
"The party to which I belong, the ANC, has said it is 'ruthlessly' committed to dealing with and rooting out corruption. We (the Prasa board) expected everybody to support what we were doing, that they will say 'well done' in protecting taxpayers' money.
"But increasingly the image of this country and the government is going to the dogs, because repeatedly you have these massive reports of corruption and there has not been clear and serious evidence of confronting this corruption," Molefe says.
Prasa and the board were upping the ante in the 18-month-long investigation into widespread irregularities at the parastatal in recent days: Molefe wrote a scathing letter to the Hawks, berating them for their inaction in finalising investigations, the board were about to file supplementary court papers in two civil suits to recoup irregular expenditure and they were gearing up for a testy meeting with Parliament's standing committee on public accounts, the Hawks and National Treasury.
According to him, the fight against corruption is being hobbled by the targeting of whistleblowers and interference in police investigations.
This also happened in the investigation into Prasa corruption, Molefe says: "They (the police) have been shifting investigators around, every time the new guy comes he knows nothing about the investigation or where the dockets are. This is deliberate, to delay the process. And I wonder whether they (the police) were told the board's term is coming to an end, that the new board might not be as committed to fight corruption and institute legal action."
He believes "there might well be" some form of collusion, high up, to prevent the investigations succeeding. "When you look at the pattern of behaviour, whether it is in the portfolio committee, in law-enforcement or the noises by Lucky Montana and others . . . it gives the impression there might well be some kind of. . . interaction. It is worrisome."
Molefe and the board are awaiting legal advice, but he says they will not accept Peters' decision without a fight and that it must be challenged in court. "I was driving back to Sandton on Wednesday, after a meeting with the ANC's deputy secretary general (Jessie Duarte) when I received a message from a colleague saying I was no longer chairperson. I don't have an ambition to remain on the board, but if we let this go it will permeate through society and all state-owned enterprises . . . you can't just fire a board without giving reasons."
Molefe — who was a major figure in the 1976 Soweto student uprisings and was the longest serving premier of the North West Province — added that South Africa might "through omission or commission" undermine and erode its own democracy and that there seems to be a lack of values and ethics in the country.
"The ANC's loss of three more metros last year during the municipal election shows conclusively it is losing support. What is happening with Prasa further erodes the party's support . . . it also boggles the mind that, after the Constitutional Court ordered remedial action with the payment of social grants, they (the Department of Social Development and Minister Bathabile Dlamini) can't account for what they did. I wish they (the government) will act against those people with the same commitment they show in acting against us."